California Dreaming: A Journey West

Your intrepid reporter was captured in a photograph on the stairs at Golden Gate Heights, with Mt. Tamalpais and Marin County in the distant background.

At the top of the stairs at Golden Gate Heights, the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge can be seen in the distance.

The stairs at Golden Gate Heights depict, in mosaic tile, a curling dragon, with his tail at the bottom and his head at the top of the stairs.

Olivewood Cemetery, in Riverside, California.

The quadrangle at Riverside City College, where I underachieved for two years back in the sixties.

For the past several years, and for a couple of reasons, I have been wanting to travel west, to California, where I spent 30 years of my early life. I was never able to manage to pull together the funds to finance such a trip until this year.

One of the reasons I wanted to take this trip was to take my mother’s ashes to Riverside, in southern California, where both my brother and my father are buried. The other reason was to visit with one of my oldest friends and his lady who live in San Francisco.

I managed to get an earlier start than planned, leaving shortly after 1 p.m. on Friday, June 26, and making it to Memphis, Tn. that evening. For about 50 miles east of Memphis, I encountered furious thunderstorms that halted traffic all along the Interstate. Visibility was nearly zero at times.

Coming into the city, the rain had stopped, but the setting sun was shining brightly through a white haze directly in my face, washing out the freeway signs so badly I missed the off-ramp for the motel I had booked for the evening and I had to backtrack a bit. It was the only reservation I made during the trip.

The following day was a long one on the road as I traveled over 800 miles in 12 hours, from Memphis to Tucumcari, N. M., where I again stopped for the night.

The skies remained overcast all through that morning and it was cool enough I didn’t have need of the air conditioner. When I stopped for breakfast at a Waffle House in Conway, Ar., the clouds had begun to break up and the temperature had climbed to 80.

I don’t know how familiar my readers might be with Waffle Houses, but they are pretty uniform all across the country, with a counter near the entrance and booths all around the outside walls. The counter usually encloses the area where the food is prepared and the wait staff moves about doing their jobs.

Inevitably, at one end of this counter, are three or four seats that seem to be occupied by the same types of locals… seniors, farmers or just good-ol’-boys who converse on a variety of subjects ranging from the weather, crop prices or sports, not necessarily in that order.

I believe it may be a franchise.

The speed limits through the panhandle of Texas and into New Mexico was 75 miles-per-hour, so I was able to make excellent time, plus I gained an hour when I crossed into New Mexico.

The next day, the weather stayed cool enough that no AC was needed until I got past Kingman, Az. As you pass Kingman, the road turns south and descends into the Colorado River basin and the temperatures begin to soar. I watched my car’s thermometer rise from the mid-eighties in Kingman, to well over 100 degrees in less than a half hour.

Crossing the bridge over the Colorado and entering California, the temp was 113. Just past Needles, Ca., the road turns west again and begins to cross the Mojave Desert. Just a few miles in, the thermometer topped out at 115 degrees.

I spent that evening in Barstow, on I-15 on the way to Las Vegas from the L. A. area. From there it was about an hour’s drive away from Riverside, the first stop on my trip.

It has been nearly 50 years since my dad and brother passed, and it is over 30 years since I was last at Riverside’s Olivewood Cemetery, where they are buried.

Searching for the cemetery, I discovered I was wrong about the street on which it was located, but I eventually found it. I was pretty sure I knew exactly where the graves were located and went to that spot, only to be disappointed when I could not find them.

I then went to the office where a helpful young lady provided me with a map showing their sites. Turns out I was in the right location but I didn’t remember that my brother Mike’s grave was right next to a tree. I though it was a few sites away. My dad’s grave is located two rows down.

I did what I came to do, scattering my mother’s remains over both graves, then taking off to see what had become of Riverside.

My first stop was Riverside City College, where for two years back in the late sixties I spent as little time as possible, eventually dropping out with, I think, eight credits. The school had expanded greatly over the years, but the quadrangle looked exactly the same.

When I began to drive through town I realized it had become a place I hardly recognized. I had planned to spend the night there, but realizing it held nothing for me anymore I called my friends in San Francisco and told them I would go ahead and drive up there that afternoon.

Bill Webber is a person I have known since we were both in the same third-grade class at C. W. Haman Elementary School, in Santa Clara, Ca., where we both grew up.

Bill is currently a tax consultant working out of Santa Cruz, on Monterey Bay, about 80-90 miles south of the city. He spends his week there, then comes north where he lives with Wendy Walker, his companion for the past eight years.

My first day in the city, Wendy had the day off and she took me around to some of her favorite spots, including a long stairway in what is called Golden Gate Heights. Built in 2005, the stairway goes up the side of a steep hill which affords a panoramic view north to the Golden Gate and south along the Pacific.

Bill came home that evening and we spent the next several days together, talking of things trivial and important, of the present and the past. We cried a little, but laughed a lot, something I hadn’t done much of lately.

We watched fireworks on the Fourth of July down at Fisherman’s Wharf, a place where I had worked for three years in the early seventies. Had a great dinner at a restaurant I knew from back then, then watched the fireworks disappear into the fog along the wharf, with their explosions creating great colorful impressions through the mist.

We went to a Giants’ game on Monday. Though I have become a Reds fans over the past several years, I will always be a Giant fan at heart. It was painful to watch as the Giants suffered their seventh straight defeat at the hands of the New York Mets.

The trip was a wonderful tonic for me. I had begun to feel old and worn out, but I have returned to Kentucky with renewed vigor and a will to stay young forever. I hope to continue laughing for many more years to come.

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